A road warrior’s guide to touring
Pro tips from local musicians who’ve ventured far
Any musician will tell you that touring isn’t glamorous. But most love it. Whether you’re hitting the summer circuit with your band for the first time, or want to know how many T-shirts a metal guitarist actually wears on the road, take the advice of some hard-traveled Sacramento artists.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Really, don’t anger and annoy your band mates. The Sacramento grit-rock band The Ghost Town Rebellion says it tours an average of 150 days a year. Guitarist-vocalist Shawn Peter says driving long hours in a 12-passenger van is a true test.
“That’s when you really understand who your band mates are,” Peter says. “Fortunately, in my band, we’re past that party stage.”
Chris Lemos, guitarist for the metal band Chrch, put it differently: “Let the little s--- go.”
“Don’t nitpick at every little thing that everybody has to say, because if you have to live with them for four more weeks after you get nitpicky on day two—that’s gonna really suck,” he says, laughing. “Hopefully, everyone’s having an equal amount of fun, but also at the same time, everyone’s miserable because you’re living in a van.”
Avoid junk food
Fast food is an easy choice on a night drive. But regret soon follows, says Lys Mayo, lead guitarist for the pop-punk band Sad Girlz Club.
Mayo packs a small, plastic container with tortillas, peanut butter, dried fruits, nuts and, always, Clif Bars. “If you’re a person who drinks, Clif Bars and Vitamin Water before you go to sleep is what’s going to save you from a hangover,” she says.
Mayo and Lemos recommend stocking up at any 24-hour grocery store for snacks that won’t have you hating life before the next rest stop.
“Sometimes, you’re going to eat fast food and it’s gonna suck. But if you don’t do it all the time, you’ll be OK,” Lemos says.
A comfortable bed isn’t guaranteed. Neither is a shower. Ross Hammond travels solo for his gigs up and down the West Coast, playing guitar at galleries, cafes and house concerts.
“If you have a YMCA membership, there’s a Y in every city,” he says. “So you can go in and shower, shoot some hoops and just kind of get right with the world.”
Many truck stops also have showers, and often it only costs a little over a buck to wash last night’s show sweat away, Mayo says.
“Usually, you just pay like $1.25 to open the door. So open the door, take your shower and hold the door open for the rest of your band mates,” Mayo says. “I also just like to jump in lakes and rivers, too, when you can.”
Lemos recommends travel-size everything for toiletries. For clothes, he’s a minimalist metalhead.
“You want to just have the bare minimum … Tons of underwear, tons of socks, three shirts, one pair of pants, maybe extra shoes. Really, once you’re traveling you don’t need that much,” he says. “As long as you feel clean. Well, not clean, ’cause you’re not going to feel clean—at all. As long as you have fresh socks. That’s pretty important so you don’t have weird grime on your feet and feel gross from that. But you’re probably just going to end up wearing the same shirt like every day. Just because, like, why not?”
Divvy up driving duties
Mayo says most bands drive in shifts. Night drives are especially important. Only drive for a maximum of six hours, as 10-hour stretches can be dangerous. And just because there’s a straight-edge person in your band doesn’t mean they want to be the designated driver after every show.
“I think a mistake most bands make is thinking that they can do 10-hour drives in a day, and you can, but you’re going to be miserable, and chances are you’re going to be late to your show because of traffic,” Mayo says.
Have passport, will travel
Named one of the best 50 metal bands of the last decade by Kerrang! magazine, Chrch is no stranger to touring overseas. Besides stretching often on long flights to Europe, Lemos recommends this little ditty:
“Obviously, the passport. … I actually just had to get mine renewed even though it’s not expired, because there’s some countries you can’t travel to if it’s within six months before it expires,” he says. “Another weird thing is if you travel a lot out of the country, sometimes you have to get more passport pages because there needs to be enough room to stamp them.”
Make new friends
If you book a gig in a new city, get to know local bands. Research similar genres on social media, call promoters and get recommendations. Most of all, offer to host a show as a trade-off. Hammond says he’s built a solid network of musician friends throughout the Pacific Northwest using this method. Most of them have floors and spare rooms to crash.
“We’re all in this together, so we might as well help one another with shows and stuff,” he says.
Don’t skip the fly-over town
That’s Mayo’s advice on where to perform. Research online when mapping your route.
“The best shows that I’ve ever played, hands down, have been house shows in the middle of nowhere. I played a show in Cedar Falls, Iowa, that was probably the most fun show I’ve ever played, in some basement that some kid had keys to … His mom was a Realtor,” she says.
Look into venue load-in and parking, too. Park the back of the van against a wall so no one can break in that way.
“Bring everything into the venue always, even if you think it’s safe,” Lemos says. “Don’t leave guitars and vinyl in the car when it’s hot because it will break everything. And, if you get to the hotel, bring your guitars inside.”
Get the money
Sometimes you get paid. Sometimes, things happen.
“Either you walk the guy down to the ATM machine and you make sure they pull out cash, or if you know you’re not going to win the argument, you just bite your tongue and leave,” Peter says. “Or if a fight breaks out, a fight breaks out. I’ve been in all situations. (Laughs.) … But, not getting paid, it sucks.”
Peter recommends booking shows with guarantees, with cash upfront. A newer underground band will usually get paid at the end of the show, and it may be only $50. To help cover costs, sell merchandise.
“We’re doing a limited edition run of tank tops, and we’re printing a bunch of new merch,” says Mayo, who’s going on tour in July with Sad Girlz Club and the punk band Lightweight. “Doing bundles, like if you’re going on tour with another band, ’Hey, get both of our CDs and two shirts for X amount of dollars.’ … Generally, you end up paying out of your pockets, at least a couple of times, for gas.”
If you’re a party band, sleep in the van, Peter says. It saves money and helps everyone stay on schedule. Mayo suggests posting to a gig’s event page ahead of time for a home to crash.
“I know for the Sad Girlz tour I’m bringing my own little one-person tent and my own hammock, because especially when you go out with two bands at the same time, it’s really hard to find someone that could put up eight or nine people,” she says. “[Be] prepared to sleep in the van, or sleep outside or hang a hammock on a patio.”